Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Ring-Fence: Definition in Finance Accounting and Legality

What Does Ring-Fence Mean?

The term ring-fence refers to the creation of a virtual barrier that segregates a portion of a company's financial assets from the rest. This may be done to reserve money for a specific purpose, to reduce taxes on the individual or company, or to protect the assets from losses incurred by riskier operations. Moving a portion of assets offshore to reduce an investor's net worth or lower the taxes due on income is one example of ring-fencing.

Key Takeaways

  • A ring-fence is a protective move in finance that segregates some of a company's assets from others.
  • Offshore banking is sometimes referred to as ring-fencing assets.
  • More widely, ring-fencing can protect a portion of assets from some risks.

Understanding Ring-Fences

The term has its origins in the ring-fences that are built to keep farm animals in and predators out. In financial accounting, it is used to describe a number of strategies that are employed to protect a portion of assets from being mixed with the rest.

Ring-fencing may involve transferring a portion of assets from one high-tax jurisdiction to another with lower or no taxes or less onerous regulations. In other cases, it may be used to keep the money in reserve for a specific purpose. It also may be done to make the money unavailable for another purpose.

This is the intent of the British ring-fencing law, which went into effect at the beginning of 2019. It requires financial institutions to ring-fence their consumer banking activities in order to protect customer bank deposits from potential investment banking losses. The institutions were forced to recreate their banking arms as separate entities, each with its own board.

The intent of the law is to forestall another bank bailout like the one that followed the 2008 financial crisis. The government bailout was forced by the perceived vulnerability of ordinary consumers and their savings to a collapse of the big banking institutions.

Britain passed a law at the start of 2019 that requires financial institutions to ring-fence their everyday banking activities from their investment arms.

Offshore Ring-Fencing

The term is often used in the U.S. to describe the transfer of assets from one jurisdiction to another, usually offshore, in order to reduce an investor's verifiable income or reduce the investor's tax bill. It also may be used to shield some assets from seizure by debtors.

It may be legal to ring-fence assets to reduce taxation or avoid regulation as long as it stays within the limits set in the laws and regulations of the home country. The limit typically is a certain percentage of the annual net worth of the business or individual, meaning that the dollar amount will vary over time.

Ring-fencing can also describe earmarking assets for a particular purpose. For example, a savings account may be ring-fenced for retirement. A company may ring-fence its pension fund to protect it from being drained for other business expenditures.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. "Ring-fencing information."

  2. House of Commons Library. "Bank Rescues of 2007-09: Outcomes and Costs."

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.